We take a closer look at one of the more interesting bikes to come out of the 2017
North American Handmade Bicycle Show: a Prince tribute bike made for designer and writer Anna Schwinn.
You’ve probably seen the mind-blowing bike photos floating around the internet: since its inception in 2005, the North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS) has generated plenty of them, from glossy but unrideable design exercises to ultra-functional urban commuters. NAHBS has also been a hotbed of development for the sort of gravel grinder, b-road, cyclocross-ish, do-it-all bikes that we especially appreciate here at Grit.cx.
Well before this year’s show, some particularly interesting photos were already being spotted. Bike designer and journalist Anna Schwinn (yes, a descendant of that Schwinn) was collaborating with framebuilder Erik Noren of Peacock Groove, known for his wildly creative concepts, on a new ride for herself: a gravel/’cross/all-road tribute to the dearly departed Artist, Prince. Their creation, still slightly incomplete, won the People’s Choice at the Philly Bike Expo in November of last year. The finished version won both Best in Show and Best Theme Bike at the 2017 NAHBS, held March 10-12.
We had to find out more, so we talked with Anna about her new baby. She was able to recruit a friend, Zane Spang, to photograph the bike after an appropriately gritty ride. Yes, gritty: this bike is no ‘trailer queen,’ only built to be shown and then hung up on a wall untouched; it’s meant to be ridden all over the place, to be a ‘party ambassador’ with Anna on her travels all over the world.
Karen Brooks: Why did you choose Eric Noren of Peacock Groove to build your bike? Was it difficult to pick one builder, since you are on friendly terms with so many?
Anna Schwinn: My family owns a small framebuilding business, Waterford Precision Cycles, so I’ve been very fortunate to have grown up with what I feel to be some of the best framebuilders in the world making custom frames for me—especially as an adult. As a result, while I’ve known and had many framebuilders as friends, I’ve always just defaulted to the building and painting talent from Waterford. Knowing what they are capable of, I really haven’t had anyone else turn my head.
Peacock Groove, though, was an epiphany brand for me. I was a fan of small builders to begin with… and then Erik Noren made the Evil Dead bike. [This was a track bike, made as tribute to classic horror films, shown at the 2012 NAHBS. -Ed.] There is definitely a pre-Evil Dead bike/post-Evil Dead bike mindset for me. It was like the first time you really fall in love. ‘I didn’t know it could be like this.’ It was high-concept—and the execution was impeccable. The fork crown had these massive thorns in it and open blades, with a brushed stainless inner cut-out for the tire. The chain had chainsaw blades brazed onto the links. The white paint looked as though the bike had literally massacred someone—with fresh blood splatter all over. And those airbrushed discs. I saw the portrait online somewhere, with Erik sucking on a lollipop next to the bike, and promptly lost my mind. This guy was a genius.
Fast forward to years later. I was sitting in my very good friend Erik Noren’s office at his shop, kicking shit and drinking whiskey, complaining about needing a new bike so I could travel and test product, lamenting that nothing I had fit the bill. After about an hour, Erik goes, “You know I’m a bike builder, right?”
And it was funny—in all the years we’d been friends, it was like I’d mentally separated my friend Erik from this framebuilding superstar I’d fallen in love with years earlier. I’d never even thought about having anyone ‘outside of the family’ build me a bike, but here was this rockstar. “Erik, I’d really love that.” He was stoked. I was stoked. It was great.
KB: How did the theme come about?
AS: We started working on this bike over a year ago, when Prince was still alive and a contributing member of the Minneapolis community. When I moved to Minneapolis, it wasn’t completely out of the question for Prince to walk on stage at shows downtown and ‘play-in’ or for invitations to go across the radio for parties at his house/venue, Paisley Park. It was kind of magic for me to move to a place where this rockstar was omnipresent. Everyone is a Prince fan here—which sets a very rad tone for a city. And I love my city.
When Prince died, the project got a lot more ambitious. A fan bike is not nearly as important as a tribute bike. So the theme went from being visual to being more about Prince’s contribution within the music and art communities. My favorite thing about Prince is that he was constantly pulling up and showcasing talent all around him. So this bike would be a custom bike—and we would help to showcase the many component and accessory companies that do custom work as well.
KB: You didn’t know all the build details until seeing the final bike at the NAHBS show—what were the surprises? What was your favorite part?
AS: Well, for the very final build (this is the third in the past year), the whole cockpit was in play by three companies—the only direction given was the theme as stated above and the encouragement to let their freak flags fly. Gevenalle had developed a special custom Campagnolo-compatible shifter set with mystery detailing—which turned out to be crying doves on the levers and shifter fin. Leh Cycling Goods cooked up a custom white saddle with matching tape and bar plugs—also covered in crying Columbus doves (fitting, since the bike is mostly Columbus Zona tubing). For all of these, I didn’t get to see them in person until the show—completely outstanding work.
The big surprise, and probably my favorite part of the bike, was the result of a friend, Mark Rahn. When he heard about the project, he sent me a guitar pick Prince had once played with, one of three that he had. Not knowing what I should do with it, but wanting it to be part of the bike, I asked Paul Component Engineering if they wanted to do something with it. They were totally down.
So at the show, there was a little box waiting for me at the Paul booth, with this absolute gem of a stem inside. A polished silver body with a purple faceplate, and a machined pocket for the pick to sit in on the top of the stem body. Completely stunning. Seeing the whole thing come together was pretty breathtaking.
KB: What were your design criteria for the bike as far as basics—geometry, type of parts? Did you have any design ‘special requests’?
AS: Initially, I kicked over a geometry based on touchpoint locations from a really fabulous cyclocross/gravel fit I’d had done a few seasons ago, and my favorite bars, saddle, and post set-back. I kept being asked about seat tube and head tube angles at the show, and people were disappointed for me to not have a response. When you design for yourself, or for any specific customer, angles don’t really matter. You matter. The geometry is very short and steep, like me.
In my previous bike life, I was a design engineer for a bike company or five, so it was really fun to be able to drop all the features I didn’t want or need. It was soothing to not compromise for some theoretical customer. But, really, after I created the geometry and clearance specifications, I handed everything over to Erik and cut him loose. I didn’t want to see it until it was something I could ride.
KB: What kind of riding are you going to do with it? What are the roads and trails near you like? It doesn’t look like the kind of bike to get babied… will you be upset when the finish gets dinged (especially the lyrics on the rims)?
AS: Minneapolis and St. Paul have some really lovely swathes of wilderness dividing up the urban areas. You’re never very far from a piece of trail you can drop into, or a limestone path that can take you out of town for gravel. And this bike is perfect for all of that. But really, it’s designed to go on adventures with me, to go on my favorite rides around the U.S. and, hopefully, the world.
This morning I took it down to the River Bottoms for a muddy little ride, which it handled like a pro. I can’t tell you how satisfying it was to see that first wet patch of trail and think: yes, finally, it’s a real bike. No more bike shows or parties to worry about. Now I just get to enjoy it.
It was just so wonderful.
At the moment, it’s totally caked with mud and badly needs a bath. I think I may scoop the leaves out of the bottom bracket cluster and clean the chain, but I love it just the way it is.
KB: What’s your favorite Prince song(s)?
AS: ‘Purple Rain,’ obviously. It’s absolutely epic.